Arizona Basketball: Ranking the Wildcats' All-Time Best NBA Players
For nearly 30 years, the Arizona Wildcats have received top level recruits and produced NBA draft picks at a rate equal with nearly every program in the country.
Lute Olson kicked-started Arizona's success with McDonald's All-Americans in each of his first two years and a total of 15. Since Sean Miller took over, he has only continued this trend with an additional two. This influx of talent over the years has resulted in a considerable amount of Wildcats moving on to the NBA. Between the two coaches, Arizona has put 33 players into the NBA through the first or second round of the draft.
So which players in Arizona's history have been the best in the NBA? This list ranks the top 10.
10. Bison Dele
Formerly known as Brian Williams, Bison Dele was the 10th overall pick in 1991 and played for five NBA teams. He was always known for eccentricity, whether it be his early retirement during his prime or his disappearance and probable murder in the South Pacific.
On the court, Dele was an athletic big guy who could score, but had a volatile career. He did not start to reach his potential until late in his career. He was picked up by the Bulls late in the 1996-97 season and played a role in that championship season. He moved on to Detroit, where he averaged 16.2 points in his first year, and double figures in year two with the Pistons. Then he retired, leaving more than $35 million on his contract.
Dele was a player who had the skill to do so much more, but like another high profile guy on this list, he never did all he could on the basketball court. Regardless, he had a decent NBA career.
9. Chris Mills
Chris Mills was a first-round pick of the Cavaliers in the 1993 draft. He left Arizona after two of the school's most disappointing tournament losses, but that is another article. Mills put together a solid NBA career while playing on four teams.
In his 10 seasons, Mills was a good scorer, averaging double digits six times. He was also a decent rebounder, taking down nearly six boards a game for most of his career. Mills didn't really have any team success, only making it to the playoffs four times, but he was still good enough to make the cut.
8. Steve Kerr
Despite only averaging six points per game over the course of his career, Steve Kerr accomplished a lot. During his 15 seasons, Kerr made the highest percentage of three-pointers in NBA history. In 1994-95, he made an incredible .523 of his shots beyond the arc.
Kerr's resume is made most impressive by the teams he was a part of. The sharpshooter won four straight NBA titles from 1995-96 to 1998-99 and added a fifth in 2003. He was part of Jordan's second run of titles, widely considered the greatest teams the NBA has ever seen. Kerr's very best scoring season was in 1995-96 when the Bulls set the NBA mark with a 72-10 record.
He walked away in 2003 after scoring more than 5,000 points, his three-point percentage record, and a lot of championship hardware. Steve Kerr is a Wildcat legend and good enough in the NBA to end up eighth on this list.
7. Sean Elliott
It cannot be disputed that Sean Elliott is the best player to ever play college basketball at Arizona. He was first-team All-American two years in a row and won the Wooden Award his senior season. He left the school as the all-time leading scorer and was the third pick in the 1989 draft.
With all the accolades in college, one could say his NBA career was a bit of a disappointment. A good player, Elliott was never the star he was at U of A. He averaged 14.2 points for his career, spending all but one year in San Antonio. His scoring topped off at 20 points a night, but dropped off dramatically when Tim Duncan arrived.
During his run with the Spurs, he was the sidekick to one of the best in NBA history, David Robinson. One thing could be said for sure about the duo: they won. The Spurs won more than 50 games seven times during Elliott's 11 years with the team.
Elliott's best year came in the lockout-shortened year of 1998-99. With the addition of Duncan, the Spurs ran to the Western Conference finals where they met the Blazers. Elliott hit the Memorial Day Miracle to help get the Spurs beyond Portland. Elliott and the Spurs then beat the Knicks to claim their first NBA title.
Sean Elliott finished his career with more than 10,000 points, which is pretty darn good. Maybe he should be higher on the list because of his title, but in the final analysis, he wasn't good enough in the NBA to pass the top six guys, championship or not.
6. Richard Jefferson
Jefferson is third on the Wildcats' NBA scoring list with 12,619 points. Picked 13th in the 2001 draft, Jefferson quickly became one of the league's most exciting players. Within four years he was averaging more than 22 points a game and continued to score at a high level for another four seasons. He then was traded to the Spurs where his scoring plummeted—like several other Arizona guys after their move from a bad team to a good one.
Jefferson sustained a level of scoring that moved him past Elliott, but because it all came on bad teams, he couldn't get higher than where he is. He is another in a long line of good, but not great NBA players from Arizona.
5. Damon Stoudamire
Damon Stoudamire was one of the most exciting players in Arizona history. The backcourt he formed with Khalid Reeves took the Wildcats on one of the best NCAA tournament rides Arizona has seen. He was a lot of fun.
It didn't stop in college.
Drafted seventh overall in 1995 by the Raptors, he quickly became the focal point of their offense. He had an incredible rookie year. Averaging 19 points and 9.3 assists, just silly numbers, he won Rookie of the Year.
He averaged around 18 points and eight assists for the next three years before he was traded to the Blazers. He became part of one of the league's best teams, and his production dropped accordingly. He played his next eight years in Portland, he averaged around 13 points and six assists.
He was a major part of the Blazers' run to the Western Conference finals in consecutive seasons. In the 1999-2000 season, the Blazers took the Lakers to the seventh game in the series. Up by 15 to start the fourth quarter, Portland's collapse is one of the most infamous in NBA history (some people still think it was rigged). It was the closest Stoudamire would ever get, as the Trail Blazers got progressively worse to become the Jailblazers.
Stoudamire finished his career with 11,763 points and 5,371 assists after playing 13 seasons.
4. Andre Iguodala
If he sustains his current play, midway through January Iguodala will become the seventh member of the Wildcats brotherhood to pass the 10,000 point mark in the NBA.
When he was playing for Arizona, he was a triple-double machine and could make it happen on any night. He continues to be this type of player in the NBA. He scores at a good clip, rebounds decently, passes well and can defend. He is the ultimate glue guy for a team.
In addition to his 10,000 points, he has also racked up more than 3,000 assists, 3,500 rebounds, and 1,000 steals.
He is the only Wildcat who is currently a star in the league, and it figures to be that way for several years to come. He made his first all-star team last season and is playing well again this year. We will see how the trade to the Nuggets impacts him in the long run. If Iguodala can continue his production for a few more years, he will end his career higher on this list.
3. Gilbert Arenas
Agent Zero was the hardest fit in this ranking. The reason being he only had six full seasons before his injuries set in. Angry that he was drafted in the second round, Arenas came into the league with something to prove. He had a solid rookie campaign, averaging double-figure points. That jumped to 18 in year two and almost 20 in year three after signing with the Wizards.
So why is Arenas third on the list with only a six-year career, practically speaking?
Because he is the only guy on this list who was headed for the NBA Hall of Fame. His first six years stack up competitively with anyone in NBA history. His fourth year he averaged 25.5 points, his fifth 29.3, and his sixth 28.4. In those years he added assists at 5.1, 6.1, and 6.0 per game.
He was absolutely unstoppable for a three-year stretch. And you would have been hard-pressed to find someone willing to say he wasn't a HOF-potential guy at that point.
Then injuries set in.
He only played in 13 games in 2007-08. The next year he only played in two games. Since that point, he has tried to make his way back, but Hibachi won't ever be the same. It is unfortunate because he was having the type of career that all Arizona fans could have bragged about.
Regardless, he is third on the list because he did things no other Wildcat has come close to doing.
2. Mike Bibby
Mike Bibby is one of the best to play at Arizona. His freshman and sophomore years, before leaving as the second pick in the 1998 draft, were the pinnacle of Wildcats' basketball (if you erase the memory of the Elite-8 loss to Utah). He moved on with high expectations, and for the most part those expectations have been met with solid NBA play.
When he left the Grizzlies after his trade to the Kings, he went from a bad team to one stacked with talent. He increased his scoring average every year for the next five, topping out at 21.1 points a game. He was so clutch that on a team with Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Vlade Divac, Bobby Jackson, and Doug Christie—Bibby was the one taking the last shot.
The Kings' best team was Bibby's first.
They went 61-21 and went to the Western Conference Finals to play the Lakers. Like Damon Stoudamire and the Blazers two years before, many people believe this game as rigged (when a team shoots 27 free throws in the fourth quarter to survive Game 6, a conspiracy might not be the answer, but you have to raise an eyebrow).
The following year the Kings won 59, the following year and 55 in 2003-04, but lost both years in the Western Semifinals. In 2008 he was traded to the Hawks and averaged more than 14 points for two more years. Bibby is currently a member of the Knicks and has nearly 15,000 points and more than 5,500 assists in his long career.
1. Jason Terry
Jason Terry has done it for a long time, and he has done it well. Somehow after 14 years in the NBA, there isn't all that much drop off. A good example is that in his second year in the league, he averaged 19.7 points a game. In his 10th season, he averaged 19.6. He has consistently put the ball through the hoop at a high level.
Coming out of Arizona after his All-American season in 1999, he was the 10th overall pick in the draft. He went to Atlanta and averaged nearly 20 points a night in seasons two and three. He went to Dallas in a trade in 2004 and has continued to produce. He won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008-09, when he came off the bench to drop 20 a night.
Terry has never been an absolute star like Arenas was, or arguably Bibby was, but over the course of a 14 year NBA career, his level of play rises above the other on this list. Even now as a member of the Boston Celtics, he is averaging 11 points a night.
Because he is still able to score at a good clip, he may be the only Wildcat to reach the 20,000 point plateau (currently a bit under 17,000). Add this to his 4,800 assists and championship in 2011, and Terry has a very compelling case to be the best Wildcat to ever play in the NBA.